No Secrets at Versailles

By: Katie Petersen

In France, Princeton Dean Rebecca Graves-Bayatizoglu says, “there is a much greater distinction between public spaces and private spaces.” This cultural norm appears to have deep roots, as even Marie Antoinette was desperate for that division, according to head curator of the Museum of the Château de Versailles and of the Petit Trianon Bertrand Rondot.

Rondot explains in the stairway of Marie Antoinette’s Trianon that the queen longed for privacy – naturally, he says, because “this was the center of family life in the time of Marie Antoinette.”

This is where she raised and educated her children, put on plays for them and others in the family theatre, and taught them about the nearby-country lifestyle. She was eager to give them a normal childhood, and the house matched her aims: architect Gabriel-Ange Jacques had constructed the residence beautifully but unassumingly, as its original inhabitants were first one, then another king’s mistress.

Antoinette even had movable mirrors installed that could open to let the sunlight in during the day and then close to keep out prying eyes at night.

“The royal family was seeking privacy from court-goers,” Rondot explains, who were just a short walk away at the main palace.

But nothing was truly private for the royal family. “Paparazzi didn’t exist at the time,” Rondot says, “but people were always watching the royal family.” For instance, when Antoinette moved in and disliked the “revealing” paintings in the hamlet, she commissioned new paintings of the courts in her home country of Vienna. According to Rondot, the Parliament heard of these plans and stepped in: ultimately, the members did not allow Marie Antoinette to remove the originals. The paintings, bared breasts and all, remain in the Trianon today.

Rondot concludes, “it was a nightmare to live in Versailles” for Marie Antoinette. “It was a public life every day.”

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